How Do Birds Know How to Build Nests?


Written by

Clinton Atkins



George Dukes

how do birds know how to build nests

If you had a chance to watch your feathered neighbors construct their nests, you’d know that it is an impressive sight. It makes you wonder, “How do birds know how to build nests?”

Some scientists say the birds have already mastered the skill after hatching from their eggs, while others believe they learned the craft as they grow.

There used to be a debate between these two theories, but as more research came to light, it proved both as valid answers. Let’s learn more about birds making a nest and how they know how to do it.

How Do Birds Know How to Build Nests

Is a bird building a nest a learned behavior or instinct? That is the biggest question we will answer in this article.

There is very little scientific research regarding nest building in birds, as people tend to brush it off as an innate behavior, given that avians are smart and armed with tons of survival abilities.

However, further studies on this topic revealed that although birds know how to build their nests from birth – likely through imprinting, they also gradually gain experience while doing so, which results in more refined skills and better nets.

1. Birds’ Inherent Ability to Build Nests


One of the avians’ most remarkable adaptations is the ability to build nests. This intrinsic behavior helps them lay eggs and protect their young. It is also an example of natural selection, as birds that build better nests are more likely to survive and reproduce.

These inborn skills are:

  • Twig selection – the ability to choose thick, long, flexible, and durable twigs to support their nests.
  • Beak manipulation – a motor skill that allows birds to pick up building materials. Certain species, such as weavebirds, have such refined manipulation skills that they can weave their nests into a distinct shape.
  • Gathering materials – birds have a knack for picking soft and comfy linings materials, making their nests more comfortable and durable.
  • Placement and formation – birds have the skills to figure out how to construct a nest with the gathered material on the fly. This includes the ability to pick a location safe from predators and the preferred shape for their nests.

Remember how we mentioned the weavebirds earlier? Even without teaching, these birds know how to weave a rounded nest with a long, tunnel-like entrance to protect their eggs from snakes.

The instinct to build a nest is deeply rooted in birds. It’s like an instruction manual on survival with the shape, size, and materials to use for their nests. In their first breeding season, male or female birds can put together a nest that looks almost similar to other birds of their species.

2. Developing Nest-Building Skills


As avians grow and get exposed to their environment, they will gather knowledge and use it to address their problems.

Their first few tries at building a nest can be clumsy, such as dropping materials, leaving a barely complete breeding ground for their eggs. But as they continuously do it while watching their parents or fellow species, they learn and adapt.

Birds have the mental capacity to learn from repetition, observation, and experience. Some birds will change their nesting material and figure out a better way to weave them.

As such, some birds’ methods of nest-building can change from one season to another, getting better and more comfortable after gaining experience.

3. Learning is Catalyzed by Innate Behaviors


Avians’ inherent ability to make a nest is a part of their adaptation for survival. It is a basic life function that is crucial for the next generation.

However, developing new skills through observation is needed for successful reproduction and better viability. Innate skills are inflexible and not enough to deal with certain situations. That is why birds, like other animals, learn from their experience and find solutions unique to them.


Avians’ ability to build complex and unique bird nests uses both intrinsic abilities and learned skills. Is this answer to the question “How do birds know how to build nests?” just as you predicted, or did it blow your mind?

We hope this article helped you understand where birds’ knowledge and nest-building skills are rooted.

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